My wife and I were talking last night about one way someone could think about the different faiths, religions, traditions, and philosophies. Most of these, in some way, address (1) how we view the world, and (2) how we should act in light of that. In more specific terms, one could consider how a spirituality looks at Nature, and how it looks at the issue of control.
In the first case, you have a spectrum that ranges from acceptance of Nature as one all-inclusive interdependent whole. Nothing ‘transcends’ or is outside of Nature. If the system includes deities, those would be immanent rather than transcendent. In other words, they would exist in and throughout Nature rather than outside it. On the other end of that spectrum is rejection of Nature as a lesser kind of thing, with a superior ‘transcendent’ reality outside or above Nature. By this view, Nature is something to be overcome.
On the other axis you have another spectrum that deals with how we are best off approaching the world in order to achieve happiness. On one end of that spectrum you have the outlook that we must learn about the important matters of our world so that we can better manipulate them and get them to do as we need. This end focuses on externals and external conditions, and the power to control them. On the other end of that spectrum, the focus is on self control. By this view, we must understand our world and ourselves so that we may condition ourselves to be in harmony with it, thereby being happy as a result.
So, looking at the graphic pictured here, you can see that in the upper left quadrant would be systems that say all of Nature is one interconnected whole, deities (if any) are immanent, and we are made happy by aligning ourselves with Nature. This would include Stoicism, Taoism, and much of conservative (earlier) Buddhism.
In the lower left quadrant, you have those that say all of Nature is one interconnected whole, deities (if any) are immanent, and we are made happy by learning to manipulate and control Nature. This would include many practitioners of Wicca, much of Paganism (particularly those with an emphasis on casting spells or conducting other rituals to bring about desired results), and much of New Age.
In the upper right, you have those that say Nature is to be rejected for a higher truth, deities (if any) are transcendent, and we are made happy by aligning ourselves with that transcendent truth. This would include some later Buddhism, but also those parts of Christianity that emphasize self discipline and acceptance of God’s will.
In the lower right would be those that say Nature is to be rejected for a higher truth, deities (if any) are transcendent, and we are made happy by learning to manipulate and control higher powers. The words “manipulate” and “control” can have negative connotations those in this quadrant would likely reject, but the gist is that, by performing certain actions or having a certain disposition, one can get the higher powers to do things desired by the practitioner. This includes much of Christianity that prays for interventions and specific outcomes, as well as ‘prosperity doctrine’ within Christianity. It also includes some of the other Abrahamic religions, in part. Some of New Age also falls into this quadrant.
Most spiritual traditions will mix and match a little of each of these aspects, which is why it is better to view these as gradient spectra, with the traditions occupying a space that may overlap the central lines. But, generally speaking, this can be an illuminating way to look at these issues.
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